Sunday, July 6, 2014

Petite Saison Recipe

Some of the more interesting/inspirational beers that I had during my recent stay in Europe were low gravity saisons. Beers like Brasserie Dupont's Biolégère and the collaboration La Petite Princesse from Brasserie Thiriez and Jester King. I was really impressed with the massive amount of flavor in these beers which are only 3.5% and 2.9% abv respectively. Of course they were highly attenuated, as a saison ought to be, but they didn't come across as too thin. And I was seriously amazed by how much was going on with the beers. To me they were the perfect summer hot day session beer.

Some friends and I enjoying Biolégère with lunch of bread and cheese aboard a Belgian train. Photo courtesy of Geoff.
I had made low gravity saisons like this before but was never fully happy with them so I decided to take another stab at it. I talked about low gravity saisons with Daniel Thiriez during a visit to his brewery. He was exceptionally welcoming and told me about his process to make La Petite Princesse, which helped in formulating this beer.

I recently got some malt to try out from local maltster Mike Doehnel, who is a member of Skagit Valley Malting and has given many presentations, including at the 2013 Craft Brewers Conference. Needless to say he knows quite a bit about malt and malting. His malts have been featured in local beers such as Driftwood's Pilsner Doehnel, Satori Harvest, and Clodhopper as well as Moon Under Water's Maibock. I've used some of his malts before and have been happy with the results so I was excited for the opportunity to use them again.

The Doehnel malts I selected for this brew are a light pilsner malt (1.5 L) and a light munich malt (6-7 L). I chose the light munich because I wanted a light-colored saison while targeting sufficient malt character. It's easy to make a low gravity beer sufficiently hoppy, however getting enough malt character can be tricky. Especially in a beer that is also highly attenuated like a saison. With this reasoning choosing to go with the pilsner malt may seem strange, but I wanted the color to stay pale enough and I wanted a bit of a grainy character (for lack of a better word) which I often find from pilsner malts and I like in saisons.

There is also some wheat malt to try to help the body out. I would have used flaked oats but I didn't have any around and didn't get a chance to buy any before brew day. The next iteration of the recipe will likely return to the flaked oats unless I find I really like the wheat. And finally there is some acidulated malt to try to carry a hint of tartness through to the final beer. When I use this much acidulated malt I generally only mash up to 0.25 lb from the beginning and I put the rest in with about 10 minutes left in my mash (when pretty much everything is done) so that I don't mess up my whole mash conversion for too low of a mash pH. I've found that 10 minutes + vorlauf and runoff is sufficient to convert that small amount of additional grain. I generally don't do a high mash out when brewing a highly attenuated beer such as this as I want to continue my conversion in my collected runnings, so that provides plenty of extra time for the acidulated to convert if the 10 minutes isn't enough.

Staring my boil
Batch Size: 8 gallons (30.3 l) split into a 6 gallon and a 3 gallon carboy.
Target OG: 1.030
Target IBU: ~21 (Tinseth formula)
Target FG: 1.002
Target ABV: 3.6%
Actual OG: 1.032
Brew Day: 1-July-2014

35.9% Doehnel #25 (1.5 L pils)
35.9% Doehnel #27 (6-7 L munich)
20.5% CMC white wheat malt
7.7% Weyermann acidulated malt

50 g Czech Saaz Pellets (3.6% aa)
50 g Hallertau Mittelfrueh pellets (18 g at 4.0% aa, 32 g at 4.5% aa).
I added 15 g of each hop as a first wort hop and the remaining 35 g at flame out for a 20 minute hop stand.

A blend of Wyeast 3724 and 3711 (about 67% 3724 and 33% 3711), approximately 190-200 billion cells total. I am adopting this blend as my 'house yeast' for pretty much all my saisons right now and may play with the blend ratio, but I'll likely keep it between 60/40 and 80/20. Preferably closer to 80/20 but I generally find that it is much more convenient to split close to 65/35-70/30 with the sizes of my starters. This is the same yeast blend I used in my 2013 NHC wining saison.

The 3 gallon carboy also got dregs of a homebrew saison with WLP 644 Brettanomyces bruxellensis trois at the start of primary. It also got some of Yeast Bay Lochristi brett blend during fermentation.

1/2 tab whirlfloc
1/2 tsp Wyeast nutrients
8 g CaSO4 and 6g CaCl2 total added to the mash and sparge water (1/2 in mash, 1/2 in sparge) resulting in an addition of about 76 ppm Ca2+, 108 ppm SO42- and 54 ppm Cl- (Victoria's water is basically distilled water so the amount added is quite close to the final total concentration)

My game plan for the mash was 70 minutes at 149-150 F (65-65.5 C), which worked out pretty well. I generally run my mashes pretty thin (> 2 qts/lb or > 4.2 l/kg) as I use a 10 gallon mash tun and my batches have on average something like 10-13 lbs of grain (4.5-5.4 kg) and the larger thermal mass helps me keep my mash temps better. As it stands I still generally have to recirculate my mash while heating it a couple times throughout an hour-long mash.

The carboys in a tub of water with an aquarium heater for temp control
90 minute boil with 1 gallon/hour boil off rate and 0.5 gallons lost to trub meant that I needed to start with about 10.6 gallons (40.1 l) of wort to hit my final volume. With such a light gravity though I didn't want to over-sparge. So I sparged until I had 8.9 gallons (33.7 l) and topped up with boiling water throughout the boil to ensure I hit my target final volume.

My plan was to pitch in the high 60's F (19.5-20.5 C) and let the temperature rise into the high 70's F (25-26 C) by ~ 5 days. That worked pretty well and at this point, 5 days in, I'm at about 79 F (26 C). This is a bit hotter than I would take the French saison yeast but I am trying to strike a balance and get the 3724 more into it's rather high optimal temperature range. Fermentation activity is slow but not completely done and my gravities are now down to ~1.009. I expect that the gravity will work it's way down toward my anticipated final in the next couple of days. In my experience the French saison yeast will rather slowly continue to work away down from a low gravity to the super low finishing gravities below 1 Plato/1.004 that many homebrewers encounter.

Safety note/public service announcement -
This is pretty obvious advice, but I ignored it and I know there are others out there who do this sort of thing as well. In short, I gave myself a somewhat serious scald by splashing wort on my left hand while carrying my boil kettle right after turning the flame off. And the worst of it was that I couldn't just set the pot down right away after the first splash hit my hand as I wasn't on sufficiently even ground, so I got a couple more splashes en route to a place where I could set the pot down.

Generally I cool my wort outside with a hose hookup near where I'm brewing outside. But at places where I have lived previously and where I am living now there is no outdoor hose hookup for me to use. So for my last couple of batches I've been carrying my wort inside and setting it by the sink to cool. Well this time I ran into some trouble there. My target final volume was a bit higher than usual so my 10 gallon pot was more full than usual meaning both that it was heavier and there was less room for sloshing before the wort sloshed out of the pot. So I just want to put these two reminders out there that I remembered the hard way:

1) Carrying/moving boiling wort is pretty dangerous and whenever possible it is best not to do it. It doesn't cost much for a garden hose to reach from a sink or a far away outdoor hookup or whatever that will reach to your pot for chilling. I usually brew alone and while that generally works fine, carrying heavy hot liquids is definitely a step where you should get help (even if you can carry the weight fine) if you really need to move hot liquids without a pump.

2) Getting a larger boil kettle with extra room to prevent sloshing out of the kettle is probably never a bad idea (e.g >15 gallons for a typical 10-12 gallon batch, >10 gallons for a typical 5-6 gallon batch). Many homebrewers try to squeeze out as much as they can from their kettles as I did in this case. That makes things even more dangerous when it comes to moving hot liquids. So when thinking about equipment upgrades give yourself a lot of extra volume in a boil kettle. That way when you want to squeeze out a bit more, you can with more space to spare, but when you do your normal batch size it is much more comfortable.

The small to moderate costs associated with any equipment upgrades (long garden hoses, larger pots) are pretty small compared to the prevention of possible serious injury. All things considered I was pretty lucky to get away with only superficial second degree burns on my wrist and hand, mild blistering, and my left forearm/hand wrapped up like a mummy claw for a couple days. All is fine now 5 days later but safety with hot kettles is on my mind a lot more now.

14-July-14: Fermentation went rather well and I bottled up the 6 gallon carboy (the clean portion) yesterday. My final gravity was 1.001 which was right around where I expected it to be so I'm happy about that. That means the beer finished at 4.0% abv which is a bit higher than I wanted (form my higher OG) so next time I'll have to work on dropping that down. This is the sort of gravity that might be well suited for a second runnings beer but I don't really want the thinner malt quality that one gets from that so I'll have to think about brewing batches for gravities this low or how to get around that in second runnings beers. From the initial tastes (of warm primed beer) the body seems good and the beer is pleasantly fruity with the hops there but in balance. I'll have to wait a couple weeks now for it to carb up and then I'll post a review.

I re-brewed this recipe, with some minor changes, in August 2014. Here are the notes for that rebrew.


  1. How long did you keep the 3 gallon carboy before bottling? Did you keep it on the cake the entire time?

    1. Thanks for asking Neil! The answer to the first part will have to wait a week (at best) until I get back to some of my brew books. And if it isn't in those then unfortunately it will be a few months until I am reunited with my complete set of brew books. The latter is what I suspect here. I'll put a note reminding myself to check but for now we are talking on the order of 2-4 months. And yes, it was on the yeast cake at ambient (mid 60s F/~18C) for the duration after primary.

  2. That's about what I assumed. I'm preparing to try my first sour saison soon from mixed cultures just started and plan to carry (lacto and brett separate). I have a mixed WLP672, WLP677 and Wyeast 5335 culture, as well as a choice of either the Beersel Brettanomyces Blend WLP4603 or Amalgamation Brett Super Blend WLP4637 for primary. I'm not sure which way I'm going with the brett. I was planning on using some of your ideas a starting points for recipe and process, but length on the cake was a question. I assumed the brett would minimize the need to transfer off with just a couple month long primary. One of my other big questions is hopping rate. I'm looking for tart, not sour.... hence the lacto choices, but you always here the fear of hopping with lacto. What are you experiences with tartness and controlling acidity with hopping levels? Where are you comfortable? Thanks for any help.

    1. Cool, yeah I think you should be good with leaving it on the cake for fermentaiton/a couple months. The only times I think I've had bad results from that was when I didn't do a good job of separating hop material and I got a planty taste that carried through.

      I don't have much experience here but I do know that many others have not been happy with the white labs lacto strains. I used WL brevis once and didn't get as much acidity as I'd like (and as I usually get from Wyeast Brevis). Generally i don't get a lot of acidity in this sort of time frame, just some nice tartness. It sounds like this is the same that you are going for. I've been happy with 20-30 IBU and WYeast brevis for ~3 months, but as mentioned above I didn't get the same results from WLP brevis in ~20 IBU. Personally for my tastes I'd avoid dropping the hops too much as I generally prefer saisons with some hop and tartness, and if not that then just the hops, and if not that then tartness (with neither at the bottom). So I know I am personally more likely to get a beer that I like going with ~20-30 IBU and ideally finding lacto strains that can take that. Though your priorities may differ depending on your personal tastes/preferences. Sorry I can't give you more advice on the specific strains you are using.

      So far I personally prefer the Beersel blend to Amalgamation, but have used both with pleasing results.

      Hope the brew goes well!

    2. Thanks, that is pretty helpful. Maybe I should add the wyeast brevis to my mixed lacto cultures, as I think the ~25 IBU range is where I's like to be as well, with a good tartness behind it.

    3. also, sorry to bother again.... but you have also talked about the Yeast Bay LOCHRISTI BRETTANOMYCES BLEND. How do you feel about it, relative to the Beersel blend? Thanks.

    4. No worries Neil. Feelf ree to ask all the questions you want! I'm not a huge fan of the Lochristi blend in most settings. It can make a cool fruityness (I think I've seen it described as strawberry but I get more lemon zest) but I've experienced some phenols that I don't always love. That my personal taste at least. So I prefer their other blends.

      I have used lochristi in a beer with lemon zest and I think it works really well to add a slightly different sort of lemon dimension to that.

  3. So, I have another question I was hoping you could help me with? I'm trying my first mixed culture tart saison this weekend. I have a Fantome Saison stepped up starter I am planning to pitch with wy3724 (and possibly Yeast Bay Beersel Blend.... but I'm not sure I need it). The 3724 is always finicky in my hands, no matter what I do (open fermentation included). I was wondering if you would suggest pitching 3724 first and waiting 3 days or so before pitching the bugs, to let the sacc establish itself and possible develop some character, or just pitch everything in the beginning? Thanks for any help.

    1. Cool, sounds like a good plan. I favor pitching everything all at once, though I haven't done a lot of trials to determine that this is the better route. But I favor it for a couple reasons:

      1) I think a healthy pitch of sacch should be able to express itself in a mixed culture.
      2) It is easier to do everything at once rather than pitching 3724 and waiting to see if/when it stalls and acting from that point. This is the same reason I started blended yeasts and co-pitching when doing sacch only saisons.
      3) I want to give bacteria the best chance possible to grow in a beer that I know will have high attenuation. So I think getting them in early when there are more nutrients and more accessible sugars is good.

      So I'd personally opt for the all at once approach, but again I haven't proven to myself that this is the best route. It is just the way I go about it.

      Hope it all goes well!

    2. Great! Thanks for the help.